The batch of 149 acetates — test recordings usually made directly from master tapes, and therefore typically very high sound quality — were discovered in an apartment building that Dylan used in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. They came to light after the building’s owner died and her brother was going through its contents.
He found two boxes labeled “Old Records,” and noted Dylan’s name on many of them. He got in touch with veteran record executive and collector Jeff Gold, who made the trip to New York to examine them and wound up buying them.
“When I opened the boxes and took a quick look at the contents, I was blown away,” Gold noted on the blog of his Record Mecca website. “They were indeed all by Dylan, all were in excellent condition, and many had handwritten notes on the sleeves. They all dated from the sessions for Dylan’s albums ‘Nashville Skyline,’ ‘Self Portrait’ and ‘New Morning,’ about equally split between 10″ discs with a single song and 12″ discs with multiple songs.
“Though I couldn’t listen to them on site, I knew this was a major discovery, and made an offer for the collection more than double what I had expected to pay.”
Gold wrote that, “We took a moment to contemplate what might have happened if he hadn’t found them. The building would have sold, the new owners would have hired a crew to gut and renovate the place, and the boxes tossed into a dumpster from a third floor window. Phew.”
Gold enlisted a friend to make digital transfers “of the most interesting discs,” and said he has provided copies of everything to Dylan’s camp, as he owns the copyrights on the songs, most of which are alternate takes or different mixes from what eventually ended up on the studio releases. It’s similar to the alternate versions that appeared last year on Dylan’s “Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait.”
Among the highlights, according to Gold: “There are outtakes too, including electric versions of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ recorded during the ‘Self Portrait’ sessions, and a gospel tinged version of 'Tomorrow is Such a Long Time' recorded during the ‘New Morning’ sessions."
Gold, formerly an executive at Warner Bros. Records, is offering a few of the acetates for sale at prices ranging from $1,750 to $7,000.
“These 149 acetates provide a remarkable look into Dylan’s working process at the time,” Gold notes. “Dylan recorded ‘Nashville Skyline’ in Nashville; ‘Self Portrait’ in Nashville and New York and ‘New Morning’ almost entirely in New York. Dylan’s producer at the time, Bob Johnston, worked out of Columbia Records’ Nashville studios. These acetates were for the most part cut in Nashville and sent by Johnston to Dylan in New York for his comments and approval.
“This kind of collection is very unusual,” he writes. “Usually an artist and producer would make decisions about takes, mixes and overdubs while together in the studio. But Dylan was living in New York and Johnston headquartered in Nashville – so acetates were a simple way for Dylan to monitor what Johnston was doing.”
Music lovers dream of stories like this.
Jeff Gold, author of “101 Essential Rock Records” and owner of Record Mecca in Los Angeles, Calif., was recently contacted by a man who found two boxes labeled “old records” in his late sister’s apartment on 124 W. Houston Street in downtown Manhattan — the same building where Dylan once had a studio. Gold flew over to examine the contents of the boxes and discovered 149 unheard acetate records of Bob Dylan works-in-progress recorded during the making of 1969’s “Nashville Skyline,” 1970’s “Self Portrait,” and 1970’s “New Morning” — a gold mine for Dylan fans and collectors that had been kept in storage for decades.
Dylan worked on those three albums in Nashville with producer Bob Johnston, but he remained a New York resident during the period. The thought is Johnston shipped the acetates to Dylan for him to hear, approve or rework if necessary. Some of the music did exist on other tapes and surfaced in prior years, but not from these specific acetates.
Gold purchased the hefty collection in March and excavated his findings like a historian, transferring the songs to high-quality digital files and photographing the pieces. He’s keeping most for himself but some are for sale.
He spoke with the Journal about the details of his extremely rare find.
When you get a call that 149 unheard Dylan recordings are available, what goes through your mind?
I get calls every day about stuff. [I was told] a guy had some Dylan acetates in New York and asked “Are you interested in getting in touch?” “Sure.” From there, I began emailing him and he said “My sister had this building, she died, I found these two boxes of records. It looks like there’s about 150 of them. I think they’re all Bob Dylan.” That’s when the instinct comes in. You try to gather as much as possible; the guy understood that they were fragile and didn’t want to move them. I had to fly to New York and pick them up so he wouldn’t have to worry about shipping them. Over the two hours I spent looking at them, you don’t have time to figure out what’s there. I didn’t have a record player and they were delicates. They could only be played on a high quality stereo. It was a long process of figuring out what I had bought. What versions of songs were different from what had been released. A lot of research went into figuring out what this was. It wasn’t an instantaneous “Oh my God!”
How long did it take to go through everything?
It took a couple of months. I felt it was important to catalog everything. I wanted to give Dylan’s office transfers of everything. I have a relationship with them. It took me three months to basically deconstruct all of this.
Do the Dylan obsessives know or theorize finds like this are out there?
Jeff Rosen, who’s Dylan’s manager, has done an unbelievable job of managing Dylan’s catalog. He’s put out 10 volumes of the Bootleg series. The last one [“The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait”], coincidentally, focuses on the period of this. There’s a whole bunch of unbelievable stuff that got released. Things do surface from time to time, but this is as an extraordinary find that’s taken place in many, many years.
How much did you pay for these?
I don’t want to talk about money. It’s not about that for me. A lot. I gave a multiple many times greater than what I anticipated when I showed up. I’m a very straight-ahead businessman and when I saw how great these things looked and how interesting, I tripled the offer I had in mind. The seller was extremely happy.
Is it likely Dylan or the label would’ve ever come after them?
These are things he abandoned probably 42 years ago. But, I do have a relationship with his management. I discovered an unknown Dylan live recording at Brandeis University from 1963 four or five years ago, which I sold to Dylan’s management for release as a live album [2011’s “In Concert – Brandeis University 1963”].
When you listened to these, what are some of the interesting or weird things that jumped out at you?
There were three things. One was this Gospel version of “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” which was produced for “New Morning” but not released. There was live, in the studio with a full band of him doing two Johnny Cash songs, “Ring of Fire” and “Folsom Prison Blues” that are fantastic. I’d heard none of those before.
A lot of demos have chatter. Did you hear anything like that?
There’s definitely some of that. On his cover of “The Boxer,” which is Simon & Garfunkel, before he starts he says to Sara, his wife “Hey Sara, turn the page when I give you the signal.” Something to that extent. The song’s been pretty recently released and he’s looking at sheet music or the lyrics. Before “Copper Kettle,” he says “This is one of our favorites, we’ve always wanted to do this.”
Is there a theory as to why these were left behind and how they remained in such great condition?
Dylan often abandoned stuff regularly; many lyrics have surfaced that were left in place he lived or used over the years. I think they were superfluous once the record were released. As for the condition, I think Bob played each of these once twice or maybe three times, and put them back in the sleeves. They sat boxed up in a closet for more than 40 years, which is probably the ideal way of storing them.